Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Vampire of Highgate – review

Author: Asa Bailey

First Published: 2012

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Kathy is an innocent – an outsider – who longs to belong somewhere. Anywhere.

When Kathy starts having vivid dreams of her lost sister, Amber, she finds herself called from her New York home to London – Amber’s last known whereabouts. Convinced that Amber’s disappearance is entwined with the legend of the Highgate Vampire, Kathy begins a deadly search to uncover the truth about her family’s past, little realizing that she is being drawn in to the final resting place of London’s most ancient and powerful vampire…

Inspired by actual events that took place in and around London’s Highgate Cemetery, The Vampire of Highgate is a bone-chilling tale of dark secrets and deadly intentions.

The review: Whether you believe a vampire did haunt London’s Highgate Cemetery (and the testimony of one or the other of the main protagonists of the real world claims) or you think it a load of old tosh that was either cynically manipulated by sensationalists or simply the delusion of fantasists, the fact of the matter is there is precious little in the way of literature and films that have been directly inspired by the accounts/myths of the Highgate Vampire.

This book is part of the ‘books with bite’ range, a children’s series from the publishers Hodder and, perhaps, the blurb’s sensationalist “inspired by actual events” might have been toned down to “alleged events” given the target audience.

Now I do not mind, as an adult, reading books aimed for a younger audience, but I did find this one particularly unchallenging, perhaps even bland, in its language, which was a shame. I also wondered at the heroine’s casual use of anti-anxiety medication and considered whether I was being a little too prissy thinking that it was a wee bit too blasé – though I was glad to see a positive portrayal of someone with mental health issues and the association of such issues with the heroine of the piece. Negatively I found some of the character motivations under-explored – for example a character, Antwain, who seemed to have been around since at least 70 AD was still only half vampire, was subservient to a vampire created in the nineteenth century and was a little too eager to help the mortal Kathy (who we discover is from a race born to be vampire slayers). This might have worked if the motivation of characters had been explored in depth. Many other characters were little more than line drawings they were so thin.

The author did look to explore the alternative history of the vampires and whilst the vignettes through time certainly worked (adding, at least a little, much needed depth to the narrative) I found my suspension of disbelief challenged by the aforementioned 70 AD section that seemed to confuse gospel writers with disciples (that may have been purposeful and in need of narrative expansion) and suggested Muslim involvement some five hundred years before the birth of Mohammed.

When it came to vampire lore the author drew in Christian mythology and suggested that the vampires (or at least one) attended the Last Supper, with a further inference that several of the disciples may have been vampires but shying from a full blown ‘Christ the vampire’ line. By not exploring this in depth I was left wondering at the connections. Vampirism is passed through a bite and yet the vampires are also described as a separate race – indeed the hunters are “a race of people related to the vampires… …our races have been fighting each other since the dawn of time.” Vampires and hunters seem to have access to magic to one degree or another – the Highgate Vampire held in the cemetery by glyphs. Lore-wise, it was all a bit of a confused mess to be honest, though I liked the idea that the Highgate Vampire could move from one host to another and thus had to be trapped rather than slain.

Asa Bailey has done something positive in that the Highgate Vampire deserves to be the subject of stories and films. Whether one believes is irrelevant, there is a marvellous core tale to be exploited. There are also good ideas within this book but it is let down by under exploration within the narrative and uninspired prose. 4 out of 10.

First reviewed on Amazon UK as part of the Vine Programme.

No comments: